The Museum of Fine Arts has plunged to old depths to show why some of its more than 1.5 million works of art grace its walls and others hang on racks behind steel doors in underground rooms.
"Unlocking the Hidden Museum: Riches From the Storerooms" gives museum-goers a chance to see what they haven't seen and may not see again.
"I'm always eager to demystify the museum," said its director, Alan Shestack. "It's really a look, and a rather rare look, at the submerged part of the museum iceberg."
Nearly 200 pieces have been moved to the iceberg's tip--etchings by Rembrandt, paintings by Millet, figurines from Africa and the Orient, scrolls, fabrics, furniture, fragments of ancient sculptures. They will be in the Gund Gallery through Sept. 9.
Authenticity, condition, quality, size and taste can make the difference between display and storage.
Side by side in this special exhibit are an 18th-Century painting by Jean-Honore Fragonard and a copy by a contemporary, and an authentic 8th-Century Chinese figurine and a modern fake.
Some works such as a wire cow with 3 1/2 legs by Alexander Calder and an Edvard Munch lithograph faded by light are too fragile for continuous display.
Some pieces are considered too fragmentary for public viewing.
Two tiny feet on a base are what remain of a small statue of King Cheops, builder of the Great Pyramid at Giza. Identification was made from the part of the cartouche still on the base.
One section of the exhibit reflects how tastes change in collecting and displaying art. A huge 19th-Century French painting of a nude man with two rearing horses was highly praised at the time and bought by the museum through public subscription 100 years ago.
This is the first time in decades that it's been shown.
"We're curious to see the reaction of today's public," said Erica Hirshler, curatorial assistant in the Department of Paintings.